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JAMCO Online International Symposium

21st JAMCO Online International Symposium

March 14 to September 15, 2013

Tsunami Response Systems and the Role of Asia's Broadcasters

ABU Early Warning Broadcasting Campaign Leading Asia Media
for Disaster Preparedness

Natalia Ilieva
Executive Assistant to the Secretary-General, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union

“No matter how good the technology or how accurate the forecast and warnings, if the information doesn’t reach people in danger in a timely and understandable manner, the warning system itself will fail.” (UNISDR Director, Salvano Briceno, 2009)


In the last few years, the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU) has emerged as a regional leader in early warnings and disaster preparedness through the media. Working with more than 50 of its members, the Union is spearheading a wide ranging campaign not only to use media for population disaster preparedness but also to make national broadcasters in its member countries an integral part of their national disaster management systems.

natural disaster
With over 50% of the total world’s disasters, Asia and the Pacific Islands region represents the widest and most natural disaster prone area in the world. It has a regular and apparently increasing frequency of typhoons, tsunamis, floods, droughts, fires and other natural hazards. According to the UNISDR, in 2008, disasters across the region accounted for almost 99% of the world’s reported victims. Those statistics alone spell out the urgency for action to prepare ABU members to be able to perform their most important duty as broadcasters– saving lives – by disseminating timely and accurate information to alert the public before a disaster strikes as well as facilitate rescue and relief operations during and after the event.

The 2004 India Ocean Earthquake and Tsunami (a.k.a. Andaman Tsunami and Boxing Day Tsunami) clearly demonstrated how unprepared many countries in the region were to receive early warning of an impending disaster. This was a powerful wake-up call for broadcasters in the region who were suddenly faced with a calamity for which they were not prepared.

The ABU moved swiftly to help several members in the countries affected by the tsunami to restore operations after their facilities were damaged by wind and waves. A week after the tsunami, the ABU Technical Department was coordinating a members’ initiated solidarity campaign to put stations back on air by sending equipment and volunteer engineers to Sri Lanka, Indonesia and the Maldives. People in these countries also received 23,000 small radio receivers to be used as life-saving means of communication in the worst affected areas. They were donated by ABU members in Australia and companies in Canada and U.S.

The work of the ABU to rally members and change the status quo progressed in 2005 and 2006 with region-wide workshops on disaster awareness and preparedness and the adoption at the 2006 Beijing ABU General Assembly of the Declaration of the Implementation of Emergency Warning Broadcasting Systems (EWBS) in the Asia-Pacific region. The Declaration calls for the development of a region-wide unified EWBS to minimise the damage and impact of disasters in the region, and for ABU members to urge their national regulators to enact provisions to implement such a system.

The work of implementing the declaration kicked-off with workshops on EWBS, financed by UNISDR and then gradually progressed to a more holistic approach in linking ABU efforts in this field with the work of the multi-donor Trust Fund for Tsunami, Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness established in 2005. That partnership resulted in two projects supported by the Fund – the ABU Early Warning Broadcast Media Initiative (2009 – 2011) and the ABU Disaster Risk Reduction Media Initiative (2012 – 2014).


Natural hazards, such as storms, tsunamis, droughts, volcanic eruptions or earthquakes need not necessarily spell disaster. A disaster occurs only if a community or population is exposed to the natural hazards and cannot cope with its effects. The 2004 Boxing Day tsunami could have had a much less devastating effect if the communities in the affected areas were prepared to act if calamity strikes and were given advanced warnings through an Emergency Warning Broadcasting System, similar to the one that the Japan national broadcaster NHK has had since 1985. The 2004 tsunami exposed the vast inadequacies in the region of relaying lifesaving messages of impending natural hazards to the wider population.


The tsunami also revealed the immense camaraderie and solidarity among the ABU members when urgent help was needed. The ABU Secretariat immediately sprung to action lending a helping hand to members affected by the calamity to put their stations back on air and playing a crucial role in disaster rescue and relief operations in their devastated communities.

It was a members’ led action, which started with a mobile phone call from Ms Joan Warner, the CEO of Commercial Radio Australia (CRA), on New Year’s Day. Joan was committed to contribute to the relief effort in the tsunami hit areas, particularly in assisting affected ABU broadcast members. She based her commitment on an initiative to persuade some radio engineers in Australia to offer transmission equipment, radio sets and volunteer engineers.

The first clarion call went to ABU members in Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Maldives at four pm that Saturday. This was the beginning of a frenzied exchange of telephone calls and e-mails, coordinating with ABU Technical Liaison Officers, many of whom were at the affected sites, engaged in building temporary transmission facilities.

On this fateful day, the ABU Secretariat formed an action team for coordinating the offers of assistance from members. The team also put an appeal on the ABU website and channelled communications with members. The ABU website appeal drew immediate response. Messages and communications poured in. The first ones come from broadcasters, both individuals and companies, in Canada and United States, and subsequently from the ABU members in Asia-Pacific, Europe and from many other organisations.

The ABU team was quick to recognize the crucial importance of providing the affected population with simple radio sets and fresh batteries as the most vital communication link that they could depend upon for all kinds of relief work, from getting to essential supplies, medical assistance and important news. It was recognised that the radio sets were indeed an essential element for survival. The ABU immediately compiled a list of initial requirements for the affected members. This included a request for 23,000 radio sets for Indonesia, Sri Lanka and Maldives as well as low power radio transmitters, emergency studio equipment and volunteer engineers for Aceh and low power TV transmitters and portable production equipment for Maldives. Joan and CRA responded very quickly to this requirement and provided the equipment in the shortest of time.

While all this was taking shape, Colin Knowles of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) came up with another brilliant idea. It focused on the long-term rehabilitation and construction of broadcasting facilities for the affected members, offering technical expertise in planning and implementation. This offer was immediately taken up by RTVM, Maldives (currently MBC, Maldives) and the ABC volunteers reached Male shortly afterwards.

Among many others, Jonathan Marks, of Netherlands, provided comprehensive reports on relief activity at the broadcasters’ front and also their requirements. One was about shortwave radios required for the Andaman and Nicobar islands. The ABU contact with All India Radio indicated that they had already met this internally.


In June 2005, the ABU launched its first initiative to improve its members’ preparedness for emergency warnings on disasters. The ABU conducted two regional workshops on emergency information flows and public awareness, preparedness and response in disaster situations with participants from the countries affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami of 2004. The objectives of these workshops were:

  • To help develop a faster, more effective early warning systems in the Asia-Pacific region by increasing the rate and accuracy of information flows from meteorological and geographic organizations to broadcasters;
  • To ensure a rapid flow of disaster and emergency information from broadcasters to the public;
  • To help develop faster, more accurate coverage of disasters when they strike;
  • To raise public awareness of disaster risk reduction, prevention and emergency preparedness by airing special educational programmes and public service announcements.

The workshops were jointly organized by the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union (ABU), the UNISDR secretariat and UNESCAP. They brought broadcasters together with technical experts from the tsunami and weather warning fields to improve dialogue and understanding with respect to warning dissemination and public education.
The first workshop, entitled “Emergency Information Flows from Meteorological Organizations to Broadcasters”, was organized from 13-14 June 2005 in Bangkok. The workshop was technical in nature and targeted mainly engineers and TV broadcasters involved in weather reporting. Seventeen representatives from influential broadcasting companies of the ABU countries, affected by the Indian Ocean Tsunami, and from Kenya, Tanzania and Seychelles, three observers from Thailand TV broadcasting companies as well as representatives from meteorological, oceanographic and disaster management organizations including ADRC, ADPC, UNESCO/IOC, UNOCHA and WMO participated in the meeting.

The second workshop, entitled “Public Awareness, Preparedness and Response of Individuals and Communities”, was organized from 15-16 June 2005 in Bangkok, back-to-back with the first workshop, to address broadcasters’ capacity and responsibility to educate audiences and raise awareness of the dangers of and appropriate responses to natural disasters through the use of public service announcements, educational documentaries, current affairs programming and other content. This workshop involved programming and production directors from broadcasting companies from the 12 tsunami-affected countries.


To continue the discussion on the role of broadcasters in disaster prevention, reduction, awareness and response, the ABU organized a professional discussion during its annual General Assembly in Hanoi, Vietnam 26-28 November 2005. The discussion involved more than 400 high-level broadcast executives and heads from more than 100 broadcast companies.


The ABU also moved swiftly to coordinate the production of relevant materials on disaster coverage and disaster awareness and preparedness. The ABU Secretariat compiled unedited footage of the Tsunami disaster through contributions by the participating broadcast companies which was distributed on the International Day for Disaster Reduction on 12 October 2005. The content of the footage was distributed to broadcasters via satellite and was used in compiling individual news stories by national broadcasters across the region. It was also made available to European broadcasters via Eurovision. An alternative backup footage (B-Roll footage) was sent to Asia-Pacific Broadcasters by the UNISDR Secretariat through the European Broadcasting Union.


The Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union, through a collaborative arrangement with CNN International, compiled scripts and materials produced by the participants of the above-mentioned two Bangkok workshops. The compiled content was circulated to broadcasters in the Asia-Pacific region via satellite for their use on and after 26 December 2005 to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the Boxing Day Tsunami. ABU has produced, together with the UNISDR secretariat, B-roll and Video news releases to complement the content produced by the participants. The items were also broadcast on CNN World Report. Participating broadcasters have produced news features on tsunami recovery efforts and issued Public Service Announcements (PSAs) to convey messages, in order to raise awareness of disaster reduction on the Tsunami Commemoration event.


In the two years after the 2004 Tsunami, the ABU Secretariat accelerated its work to raise awareness about the role of the broadcast media in saving lives by issuing warnings for approaching disasters and disseminating timely and accurate messages during and after the events. It became clear that two years after the 2004 tsunami the countries most at risk in the region had not progressed much in establishing integrated emergency broadcasting systems. The ABU decided to spearhead this effort and lobby its members and their national governments.

In November 2006, the ABU General Assembly in Beijing passed a declaration calling for implementation of region-wide Emergency Warning Broadcasting System (EWBS) in the Asia-Pacific region. The Declaration spells out the need to establish national EWBS as a first step to achieving this long-term goal. An efficient EWBS allows broadcasting stations to issue a special control signal that is used to activate receivers even when they are on stand-by. Emergency warning programmes can then be broadcast. An EWBS of this kind has existed in Japan since 1985. The NHK EWBS uses radios equipped with special receivers. The device is inexpensive and can be built in any radio or TV set by manufacturers.

The Declaration requests ABU members to urge their national regulators to enact programmes to implement EWBS and encourage manufacturers to produce receivers capable of receiving EWBS control signals in order that warnings can be automatically broadcast. After the adoption of the 2006 General Assembly Declaration on EWBS, the ABU Secretariat put much effort into disseminating the Declaration not only to its members but also to relevant international and regional organisations and forums.


Apart from the development process of the Radio-in-a-Box (RiB), which began after the tsunami of 2004, the ABU’s Technical Committee (TC) understood quickly the need for educating the ABU members, other broadcasters and the industry on the application, implementation and usefulness of the Emergency Warning Broadcasting System (EWBS). After further discussion at the Technical Bureau, the members proposed the formation of a study project under one of the four Study Topic Areas of the Technical Committee.


The EWBS study project was formed under the Transmission Study Topic Area and noting the importance of the project the Chairman of the Technical Committee himself took up the position of Project Manager. The other reason for his appointment was that he was actively involved in the on-going research and operation of the EWBS system in Japan. The project group also included experts from other regional broadcasters and system proponents like DVB, MediaCorp, RTM, KBS and RTB. The EWBS system which has been effectively operating in Japan for many years included the following characteristics:

  • Disaster detection and prediction.
  • Warning for evacuation in advance of disaster.
  • Dissemination of correct information to the public.
  • Providing well-being information.

The project group was asked to further study and report on the implementation of the EWBS in the region and around the world. The group was initially tasked with studying and providing information on the techniques employed in the EWBS system, its technology, how it operates and what kind of medium, like shortwave, medium wave, FM radio and television, on which it could operate.

Another line for the group’s study was to explore the basics of the technology and provide guidelines on how it could be implemented by broadcasters with minimal costs and changes to their existing systems. It was also additionally asked to study the operational aspects of the system, how it connects the broadcasters to the government authorities involved as well as other organisations and disaster forecast entities, both national and international. Finally, the group was also asked to study and report on the implementation updates of EWBS in the region.

The group reported its findings to the Bureau and the TC meetings that followed providing very useful information for ABU members and the industry. In late 2008 the Technical Bureau decided that it would be a good idea to collect all the information provided by the group in the form of a handbook on EWBS which can be a valuable resource for both ABU members and the industry as a whole. The EWBS handbook provides information on EWBS technology, its implementation and operational basics and updates on the take up of the technology around the region.

The EWBS handbook

The first handbook was published in 2009. It incorporated all the aspects of EWBS technology from its implementation, operational and application basics. It also provided updates on recent developments from other system proponents as well as on the take-up and implementation of the technology in the region. The seventy – page booklet was distributed to all ABU members and was also made available as an online download from the ABU website to anyone interested free of cost. The project group had provided updates to the handbook every year. In order to keep the costs down the Technical Bureau decided not to print an undated version every year but to make the updated handbook available online as a free download. The handbook has now been updated four times and the latest updated handbook, from September 2012, is available from the ABU website.

The EWBS handbook is available for download from:


In 2011 the Technical Bureau decided to remove the EWBS study project from the Transmission Study Topic area and change it to EWBS Task Force. The mandate of the group remains the same with the addition of playing a more active role in the promotion of EWBS implementation and advocating on its benefits. In 2010 the EWBS group was successful in tabling a recommendation on “Implementation of EWBS and Relief Communications for Disaster Risk Reduction” at the annual Technical Committee meeting in Tokyo. The recommendations focused on the important role broadcasting plays in the dissemination of early warnings to the masses and that the governments and national agencies, together with broadcasters, should work together in implementing EWBS in their countries. The recommendation was unanimously adopted by the members.

In fact, this recommendation played an important role in paving the way for the implementation of the EWBS Back-Pack Roadshow in seven countries across the region. The Roadshow was part of the ABU Early Warning Broadcast Media Initiative (2009 – 2011), funded by the Trust Fund for Tsunami, Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness. 
In addition to these the EWBS project and the EWBS Task Force has now been playing a very important role in educating and promoting the EWBS system through the many events and workshops organised by the ABU. The EWBS Roadshow Project that was conducted in six countries in the region was facilitated by providing experts and resource persons. The EWBS Task Force continues to support such activities through its resources and expertise.


The ABU Technical Department developed, with the support of UNESCO, the Radio-in-a-Box project. The ABU produced 14 units of this cost-efficient equipment which could be used to provide broadcast services to remote or disaster- ravaged areas. This is a low cost, simple to operate, self-contained radio station. The ABU is looking for the possibility of conducting training courses for members on constructing such units.

The RiB is a versatile FM radio station complete with audio production and transmission capability primarily developed to be used in post disaster mitigation applications. It can be transported quickly and easily by a vehicle as well as by air to the disaster stricken areas. This portable radio station can be deployed quickly at the remote location using a power generator and if its antenna is properly placed it can easily cover a distance of more than five km radius.

The RiB unit comes complete with all necessary equipment professionally assembled in a rigid flight case (trolley style) that can quickly be moved around and deployed in a few minutes. The unit has all the facilities needed to make short audio productions and editing capabilities through the use of open source software which comes pre-installed in the included portable audio workstation.

<RiB – Essential Features>
  • Compact & Transportable (comes in a secure trolley road case)
  • Quick and Easy setup (power connection and ready to go)
  • Radio Studio Equipment
  • Recording from external sources
  • CD/MP3 playback – from USB or memory card
  • Laptop based audio workstation
  • Automated Playout and Scheduling
  • FM Transmitter 100W/30W (in dual redundant configuration)
  • Comes with Antenna and 50m feeder cable

Using the included playout and scheduling software the unit can also be programmed to automatically play from a playlist without the necessity of a manned operation. The unit can take multiple inputs from external sources like microphones for announcements and can easily be operated by a novice using the included audio mixer. It can also play audio files direct from USB flash memory or standard memory cards in addition to audio CD’s.

The audio workstation can be used to make recordings from all these sources, edit and playout material directly without the need for any additional equipment. Such a radio station can be used for providing information to the public affected by relief measures, such as rehabilitation centres, centres of medical assistance, food, clothing and shelter.

The use of RiB is more crucial when communication facilities such as radio stations and mobile telephony infrastructure have collapsed. Although designed to be used in post disaster scenarios, the RiB has found good use in community radio stations with its easy setup and cost-effective design. The audio workstation runs on Microsoft Windows and the software applications are designed to be very user friendly requiring no or minimal training for operators. The unit also comes with standard user manuals that explain the equipment and its functional operations.

The ABU has manufactured and delivered many such RiB units and are in use around the world, mainly in Africa and India. The ABU provides these units as a service to its members with minimal additional costs apart from the equipment to cover overheads in assembly and logistics.

This is just one of many activities the ABU has been actively involved in creating awareness and promoting the use of such technology for disaster risk reduction and establishing effective communication in post disaster mitigation efforts.
The use of RiB can only be effective if such units are stocked and stored in strategic locations, at disaster prone areas, so that it can be deployed in these areas on a short notice. For effective application, it is also necessary that the affected population is provided or distributed with battery operated, low-cost FM radio receivers. This communication channel has been found to be quite effective and has proved to be vital in disaster mitigation efforts and activities.


The efforts of the ABU to engage members in developing national and regional EWBS moved up a gear with this project, which was supported by the multi-donor Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness. This pilot project was a direct attempt to breathe a new life into the implementation of the ABU Declaration on EWBS. While the Declaration was supported wholeheartedly by ABU members, its implementation by the broadcasters has been sporadic.

Through the ABU Early Warning Broadcast Media Initiative, the ABU wanted to bring the urgency to develop and implement EWBS, to the forefront of ABU members’ attention as well as the relevant Disaster Management Offices (DMO) in the targeted countries – Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, the Philippines, Malaysia, Thailand and Viet Nam.

The project had two distinct lines of activities – technical aspects of EWBS and procedures as well as capacity building for content development to raise awareness about disaster preparedness.


The ABU Technical Department implemented seven in-country workshops during the EWBS Back-Pack Roadshow and one regional workshop to demonstrate existing EWBSs and link broadcasters with their national Disaster Management Offices.

The regional workshop was conducted during the ABU Digital Broadcasting Symposium in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, because of the demand for EWBS training voiced by members through a training priorities questionnaire. The ABU Digital Broadcasting Symposium attracted more than 450 delegates and the workshop was well attended by representatives from government disaster management agencies and broadcasters. By pure accident, the workshop was held on 11 March 2011 when a powerful earthquake struck Japan. After the workshop, many members’ representatives inquired when the ABU can do similar training in their organizations.

The EWBS Back-Pack Roadshow workshops were conducted by experts from NHK-Japan, one of the world’s leading broadcasters in EWBS with a lot of experience in this area (more than 35 years). The experts conducted focused sessions to create awareness on the EWBS system and its applications. These sessions provided updates on the available technologies and information on how to implement and operate such a system within the broadcasting networks. NHK provided specially designed receiver units for the roadshow, so that the participants were able to learn how the EWBS systems worked with FM radio broadcasts at selected locations.

The ABU used its in-house designed Radio-in-a-Box units for the demonstrations of EWBS. For this purpose, the ABU commissioned three such units. These portable units were used for the transmission on the EWBS signals in the FM band.

The number of participants trained in the Back-Pack Roadshow is now over 350 staff from management and technical departments of the ABU participating members. In addition to the targeted countries, participants came from Myanmar, Nepal, Bhutan and Sri Lanka.


The ABU conducted seven in-country Content Development for EW and DRR workshops in Cambodia, China, India, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam and one regional production workshop in Malaysia.

The in-country workshops were held over two days with the first day introducing the broadcasting managers and journalists to the Early Warning System and Disaster Management procedures in their country. During the second day of the workshop the participants were trained on how to develop Early Warning Messages and were familiarized with Early Warning Broadcasting Plans in Radio TV Hong Kong. The workshops trained nearly 150 broadcasters (middle and top managers, editors and journalists) from the participating member stations.

The only workshop focusing on radio was the one held in Delhi during the ABU Radio Asia Conference. Because of the workshop four radio features were produced – two skids for warning for coastal storms and two radio documentaries: When Time Stands Still and Never Again. The features are included in the double DVD Indigenous Knowledge and Early Warnings for Natural Disasters.

Another valuable outcome of the workshop was the sharing of the practices of the All India Radio outlets in different states present at the workshop. It emerged that some states have well developed plans and procedures in case of any emergency, involving the local radio stations, while other states lag behind in this respect. It also became clear that the broadcasters view involvement of media to mitigate the effects of natural hazards as a top priority for any responsible broadcaster and expressed commitment to initiate the development of Early Warning Broadcast Plans in their stations.

The last in – country workshop was the one in China. In effort to improve the activity and build upon the lessons learned during the previous workshops, the China workshop was implemented with a new format with a duration of four days instead of the two-day format of the in-country workshops in Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam. The workshop activities were divided in two parts. The first two days were targeting managers, senior broadcasters and news journalists and the agenda focused on sensitizing them to the China National Disaster Management System and producing Early Warning Messages. A very valuable discussion developed during the session in which the Radio TV Hong Kong Early Warning Broadcast Plan and procedures ware presented.

Representatives from CCTV, CNR, CRI, Shanghai TV, CBN TV, Sichuan Radio and TV shared working experiences from their stations’ response before and during disasters. The participants became aware of the benefits of developing their stations’ Broadcast Plans for Early Warnings and Disaster Risk Reduction and the need to create a special unit responsible for communications and dissemination of information regarding pending disasters, rescue and relief operations.

As part of the first two days activities the participating managers and journalists were also introduced to the work of the China National Earthquake Response Support Service and Expert Committee on State Disaster Reduction, produced Early Warning Announcements and completed a simulation exercise on the Standard Operational Procedures for government and broadcasters in Early Warnings for earthquakes. The simulation exercise focused on the content and choice of key messages to reduce the impact of earthquakes. This particular exercise was received with great interest and enthusiasm.

The activities in the second two days of the workshop targeted news journalists and focused on practical exercises of developing content on Disaster Risk Reduction and producing features under the supervision of an ABU trainer. Special effort was made to channel the journalists’ attention to the crosscutting issue of gender equality by highlighting the special vulnerability of children and women during disasters. The statistic that 68% of survivors of natural disasters are male came as a bit of a shock to the participants and provoked animated discussion on the findings of the Gender Equalities, Early Warnings and Broadcasting Report. The key points in the discussion were how to prepare early warning messages for these two groups and choosing the right channels of communications to reach them.

The second aspect introduced in the practical preparation for developing features was Indigenous Knowledge for Early Warnings for Natural Disasters. The presentation of Professor Rajiv Show from Kyoto University, whose department is undertaking comprehensive research on Traditional Knowledge for Early Warnings on natural disasters, was met with great interest. His presentation was even more valuable because he was just back from a fact-finding mission in the worst stricken areas of the March 2011 Japanese earthquake and tsunami. He presented the findings of the first research into the effectiveness of the Japanese Early Warning System in this particular disaster and the role of media during disasters.

The production workshop in Port Dickson was designed to help 13 producers, selected from the workshops in Cambodia, Malaysia, Philippines, Thailand and Viet Nam, to produce TV features on Indigenous Knowledge in Early Warnings on Disasters. There are widespread efforts in the Asia-Pacific region to identify indigenous practices and knowledge gathered in the course of many generations’ experience of localized signs for pending disasters. The participants were encouraged to try to identify such knowledge and practices in their reports. During the workshop an experienced trainer guided them how to develop their story line, conduct interviews and produce a balanced, interesting final piece.

Because of the Port Dickson workshop seven features were produced. They were compiled in the DVD 1 Indigenous Knowledge and Early Warnings for Natural Disasters. The features capture stories of using indigenous, or traditional knowledge, to predict and warn about natural disasters.

The TV and radio features are compiled in separate DVDs. The double DVD were reproduced in 500 copies and distributed amongst ABU members together with the DVD produced by the Technical Department on EWBS.

Throughout the project the ABU team implementing the EWB Media Initiative organized consultation meetings between broadcasters and national DMO representatives as well as international agencies involved in disaster preparedness and prevention. That resulted in building strong long-term partnerships between the ABU participating members and the in-country IOC/UNESCO and UNISDR offices and National Disaster Management Offices in the targeted countries, establishing a valuable network of linked broadcasters and national Disaster Management Agencies. That formed a solid base to build on for the follow up project on EWB and DRR through the media.


The efforts of ABU to implement the Declaration on EWBS was taken to a new, higher level with this follow-up project funded by the Trust Fund for Tsunami, Disaster and Climate Preparedness.

The new project dramatically shifted the focus of the role of broadcasters before, during and after disasters. There is now a widely accepted view that broadcasting organisations should play a major role in delivering Early Warning Messages for Disasters. This is the traditional role of broadcasters. However, the ABU members believe that the broadcasters’ role should be pushed to a different level and they should become an integral part of the work of the national Disaster Management Offices (DMOs) in relation to the development of the communication aspects of national Standard Operational Procedures (SOP) for different hazards.

The broadcast media, especially radio, should be an integral part of national early warning systems in order to make them effective in warning the public about pending natural hazards. What is of the most importance is that in the SOPs set up by the DMO the broadcasters are a standard part of the SOP, their actions are reflected very clearly in the SOPs and that these are well drilled and carried out.

The ABU Disaster Risk Reduction Broadcast Media Initiative project aims to establish broadcasters and their networks as a party in the work of national DMOs and an integral part of their SOPs. That means that the broadcasting services and broadcasting transmission systems are an inseparable part of the SOPs and a permanent fixture in the meetings, deliberations and plans of the national DMOs and Disaster Warning Centres of the targeted countries. The set-up and mechanisms of such integration will definitely vary from country to country to reflect the specific hazards experienced and the country’s level of experience and ability to deal with them in saving human life and protect property and livelihoods.

Sending out emergency signals and messages is one side of the EWBS. The other, equally important part, is equipping the population with receivers that automatically emit the Early Warning Signals. That is part of the work ABU is going to do through this project, working with government agencies to find ways to supply the population with the special receivers that could get the signal out 24 hours a day, even when the device is switched off, and to convince manufacturers to build into their equipment the emergency warning module. It is important to encourage, or even legislate, that all the receivers manufactured from now on (radio, TV and hand phones) should have an emergency warning broadcasting module.

The overall objective of the ABU Disaster Risk Reduction Broadcast Media Initiative is to enhance the beneficiary countries’ Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) and Early Warning (EW) capacities through utilization and in collaboration with the broadcast media. To achieve this objective the ABU will facilitate collaboration between broadcasters and the Disaster Warning Centres for specific hazards and relevant government national Disaster Management Offices. The facilitation would be channelled through establishing it in the targeted countries of national EW/DRR Task Groups to help all parties create or improve processes, procedures, structures, and mechanisms for the utilization of the broadcast media as an integral part of effective national Early Warning Systems. The expected results are the streamlining of the existing national SOPs for Early Warnings by improving coordination and shortening communication channels.

An important part of the project is sensitizing broadcasters, Disaster Warning Centres and DMOs about the vulnerability of women, children, disabled and elderly people to natural disasters and their specific needs when designing Emergency Warning messages and different communications channels to reach these groups in case of pending disasters. The project would identify the hardware and equipment that broadcasters need to reach these groups. For example, deaf people cannot be reached by radio sound alerts but if the sound alert is accompanied by a light signal that increases the chances members of this group can receive an adequate alert.

The project will also develop several resource training tools: Disaster Recovery Technical Manual; country and hazard specific Fact Sheets for Effective Early Warning for Costal Hazards; a booklet Good Practices in Reaching Women and Children in Early Warnings; Guide for Communicating with People with Disabilities in an Emergency; Lessons Learned: Strengths and Weaknesses of Emergency Warning Systems and Networks book.

The project will also create a designated website. The ABU is working to develop this website as a valuable resource tool and regional platform for the exchange of information and ideas in disaster preparedness and management.

The countries targeted by this initiative are India, Indonesia, Maldives, Myanmar, Pakistan, the Philippines, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. There is a great need to help these countries to streamline their SOPs, strengthen channels of communications for warning messages and improving the effectiveness and quality of such messages. The only way forward is through the design and promotion of structured dialogues and institutional partnerships between the broadcasters and disaster management nodal offices. At the same time, there is a strong political and organisational will in the targeted countries and institutions to implement/improve new and existing policies, procedures and institutional structures, streamline the SOPs and develop effective mechanisms and channels of communications.

The proposed project is building on the work already done by the Union and other partners in the area of developing effective EWBSs. For example, the ABU, together with its members, has worked with the International Telecommunication Union in setting up standards signals for the EWS. The ITU issued a recommendation on the various technical codes that need to be used to address the early warning receivers in various sections and regions of each country and distinguish them from each national region to region and from country to country. This work has been completed by the ITU and its members and we will work to build on it for specific targeted countries. This will be reflected in the Final Report of the project and the Lessons Learned handbook.

The first activity of the project is a regional seminar to be held during the ABU Digital Broadcast Symposium in March 2013.


The ABU Early Warning Broadcast Media Initiative highlighted the gender inequality in early warnings. The project produced a special report on the issue, Gender Equality in Early Warning Broadcast System and introduced the gender perspective in the workshop modules.


There is a solid body of evidence that women and men face unequal risk exposure in many disaster cases. One of the most shocking examples comes from Bangladesh. Ninety-percent of the victims of the Bangladesh cyclone in 1991 were reported to be women. Similar situations were recorded in Aceh after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami and in the United States when Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans.

There are scientifically proven differences as to how women and men produce, process and interpret information associated with early warnings. They are underlined by factors such as social and cultural organization and the division of labour. Traditionally, these differences are not accommodated in the development of early warnings, meaning that early warning broadcast systems do not include women’s rights or gender perspectives, consequently limiting their participation in building disaster resilience and post-conflict reconstructions. Clearly, given the evidence of gender-differentiated vulnerability to natural hazards, it is imperative that gender equality is incorporated in early warning broadcast system planning and implementation.

The 2005 Hyogo Framework for Action recommended the development of early warning broadcast systems that are ‘people-centred’ to empower individuals and communities threatened by hazards to act in sufficient time and in an appropriate manner, thereby reducing the possibility of personal injury, loss of life, damage to property and the environment as well as loss of livelihoods. For an early warning to work it must be timely and effective with information provided through authorised institutions. In designing an effective early warning broadcast system, it is of paramount importance to ensure that vital information reaches all segments of the community.

A complete and effective early warning broadcast system comprises four inter-related elements: risk knowledge; a monitoring and warning service; dissemination and communication; and response capability. The mass media should be aware of these elements in early warning broadcast systems in order to develop effective disaster communication.


The most important role media can play in early warning is to provide information relating to disasters, and to contribute to shaping perceptions that impact on whole groups’ resilience to them. The media can assist people to understand risks and prepare people to respond to warnings. Natural catastrophes arise from the combination of natural phenomena and the general population’s vulnerability to them. Too often, the reason why disasters claim victims and inflict great losses is that social, political or cultural constraints create or amplify those vulnerabilities.

In this context, media has the ability to shine a light on social, political and cultural constraints and play a part in dismantling man-made barriers that keep gender groups and marginalised groups particularly vulnerable(Anna Dimitríjevics, the World Bank Institute).

Another obvious contribution of the broadcast media to worldwide disaster mitigation effort is in developing early-warning broadcast systems capable of reaching people in even the most remote hazard-prone areas, especially where the reliability of telephones and other systems is weak at best. Radio and television have the responsibility of broadcasting early warning and evacuation information and as well as increasing public awareness about the risk and responses. In Japan, for example, for decades the nation has had full-scale earthquake preparedness drills with virtually the entire population participating. These drills include the evacuation of structures as well as simulated post-disaster relief efforts. The role of the media is crucial in promoting the value of these test runs and in disseminating information.

The information needs to reach women and men as soon as possible and in this instance, media can play a critical role in providing detailed information such as evacuation routes or steps to take in the preparation process. One vital factor in effective communication is the creation and repetition of precise messages. Such messages can empower people to take practical steps to protect themselves from natural hazards and demand that private and governmental organizations pay attention to gender equality issues in disaster prevention, mitigation and response.

The type of media that is utilized is also important in early warning messaging. It is important to identify which media channels are widely used by women. For instance, where women are more likely to listen to the radio than use other media, it is important to ensure that these channels are equally involved in disseminating early warning messages.

Media has a pivotal role in shifting public thinking from fatalism to preparedness-specific “how-to” information aimed toward creating a more robust community with more knowledgeable citizens; participation in drills to raise awareness and preparedness; the promotion of greater understanding of the underlying science and technology, as well as to encourage the authorities to address difficult public decisions.

Women must have greater visibility and public voice. They must be able to frame their own issues and then communicate them, not just through interpersonal channels of their own specialized media, but also through mainstream news and other media channels that reach larger audiences. Thus, while gathering information for programming content, media can speak directly to groups that usually do not receive a voice. For example, instead of only interviewing a male village leader, media could also interview women’s self-help groups. It is important to have women speak for themselves in order to be heard accurately. Taking the time and trouble to talk to women and women’s groups not only yields insights into the larger picture but points the way to special stories that are both interesting and significant.

Creativity, cultural sensitivity, and gender-targeted messaging in disaster risk reduction communication are also important. Failure to tap women, including those now attempting to resume life after the disaster, as a resource, may impoverish media coverage and enhance the understanding of the post-disaster scenario.

The efforts of ABU in this area is to surface best practices and draw recommendations how to implement gender sensitive information in all four components of early warning broadcast system. Furthermore, how can broadcast media, through its programming, promote gender equality at each stage of the early warning broadcast system and assist in narrowing the gap in the challenges faced in gender-sensitive disaster risk communication.


In its latest Disaster Risk Reduction Broadcast Media Initiative the ABU joined forces with the Global Alliance on Accessible Technologies and Environments (GAATES) to raise awareness and draw recommendation about how to include in the EWBS the special needs of two other vulnerable groups – disabled people and elderly people.

GAATES is developing Communicating with Persons with Disabilities in an Emergency: An information Guide (Accessibility Guide Document), as a part of the ABU Disaster Risk Reduction Broadcast Media Initiative. The Guide will be addressing the need for information and practices on inclusive communication policies with persons with disabilities. The Accessibility Guide Document will provide specific information about communication with the disabled and the aged, so that broadcasters and the relevant government national Disaster Management Offices (DMO) and national EW/DRR Task Groups will have the capacity to integrate emergency communication strategies and standard operating procedures (SOPs).

Repeatedly international, national and local organizations have all identified the disabled and elderly as vulnerable “at risk” groups during emergency situations. It is understood that people from those two groups have special needs. However, the relevant studies after the 2004 Asian Tsunami, Hurricane Katrina, Haitian earthquake, frequent floods in Bangladesh, etc. reveal that the communication needs of persons with disabilities are not adequately considered or understood. Articles, reports, tweets and blogs related to the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, the earthquakes and tsunamis that occurred in Sri Lanka and Bangladesh in 2004, and Japan in 2011, provide a grim picture of the lack of adequate communication procedures for the needs of people with limited mobility, vision or hearing.

The development of the Accessibility Guide Document will increase the knowledge base of broadcasters and address the safety and well-being of one of the most vulnerable groups of society. For people who are deaf, deaf/blind, or have learning disabilities and sensory disabilities, emergency early warning systems messages may not be understood. Understanding the various communication methods (such as Text to Speech (TTS), sign language, video relay, and augmented communication) of people with disabilities will contribute to an inclusive and effective EWS and SOPs.

The project will lobby governments and broadcasters for implementation of the recommendation of the working group on disaster and EW communication with persons with disabilities at the meeting in Tokyo, 19-21 April, 2012 of UN “Expert Group Meeting on Building Inclusive Society and Development through Promoting Information and Communication Technology Accessibility: emerging issues and trends”. The main recommendations were:

  • In order to effectively reach the disabled in case of disaster, well designed accessible alerts have to be developed that meet universal design principles;
  • All government agencies and other organisations involved in the design, implementation and management of systems and technologies used in disaster and/or emergency alarms and responses should ensure universal access for all, including persons with disabilities. This should include preparedness and back-up systems and technologies in the eventuality of problems with the electrical supply of telecommunication networks such as mobile, fixed-line and internet;
  • All responses for emergency and disaster should be sustainable and accessible.

In order to inform broadcasters of the importance of including all vulnerable groups in the broadcasting of EW messages, The Accessibility Guide Document will address:

  • Legislative and policy issues, including the obligations of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and national human rights legislation that impact on communications, especially early warning systems.
  • Understanding the communication needs of persons with a variety of disabilities. The Accessibility Guide Document will be developed based on information which is specific to various disabilities, including mobility, visual and hearing impairments (including deafness and blindness), and cognitive impairments. In addition, older people and those with multiple or hidden disabilities will be included. Useful information will also be provided to everyone regardless of ability.
  • Solutions and case studies that demonstrate inclusive early warning communication methods that reach all vulnerable groups. Information on various communication methods (augmented communication, deaf-blind sign, video interpreting) will be presented. Information on the variety of technical aids (Text to Speech [TTS] readers, mobile video phones, etc.) used by people with different abilities will also be presented in order to provide current information on communication options.

The resulting outcome of the development of the Accessibility Guide Document will be fundamental systemic changes in both policy and institutional capacity to ensure that persons with disabilities are considered in early warning systems and broadcasting communications systems.


The ABU Early Warning Broadcast Campaign aims to close the gaps in communication, coordination and capacity that prevent broadcast media from being an integral part of national communication strategies for delivering accurate, reliable and timely information pre, during and post disaster. It also builds up the capacity of ABU broadcast members to fulfil their most important role – delivering timely and accurate information and ultimately help to save lives.

The initiatives that ABU has taken-up in the years after the 2004 Indian Ocean Tsunami clearly demonstrate evolution of thinking, approaches and alliances in the complex and challenging task of building a region-wide Emergency Warning Broadcast System, linking the national EWBSs in an effective operation. Undeniably, a lot of progress has been made thanks to the efforts of all the stakeholders involved – the multiple national and international agencies. However, that progress is not fast enough given that the relentless advance of climate change is producing more natural disasters than ever before. The mark of a civilised society is one that takes care of all its citizens including the most vulnerable groups. We need much more work to do before reaching that mark.

*Links are for posted items. It is possible that some items are not currently available or are being edited.

Natalia Ilieva

Executive Assistant to the Secretary-General, Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union

BSc, Sofia University, Economics, Bulgaria
Joint MBA degree from Ottawa University, Canada, and University of Kent, UK.
Before joining the ABU, Natalia has a journalistic career spanning more than 20 years of experience in print, radio and TV media, working for public service broadcasters including 10 years for the BBC, commercial operators and the “third sector” – NGOs and charity organizations in Europe, North America and Asia. Currently, she is heading the strategic development and members and external relationships and marketing in the ABU.

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